Paul Anthony Speaks to Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization
Posted at Parents Across America Oregon with permission of Paul Anthony.
These were my comments to our local House and Senate Democratic caucus at IRCO this afternoon. They wanted our thoughts on the proposed budget.
Good afternoon. My name is Paul Anthony, and I am a Board member of Portland Public Schools and serve on the Board of the Oregon School Boards Association. Thank you for this opportunity to discuss the likely impacts of the proposed budget on our children, our schools, and our future.
The current co-chairs’ proposed budget represents a reduction to Portland Public Schools of approximately $24 million per year. That equates to the loss of 240 teachers. It will impact our racial educational equity achievement and goals, literacy adoption, and increase class sizes. It is a massive hit to a system that has already spent three decades not just cutting to the bone, but actively amputating limbs.
Portland Public Schools is facing a number of likely additional cuts I want to highlight. Over the last year Portland Public Schools has become a nationally-recognized leader in the implementation of Trauma Informed Practices in the classroom. Trauma Informed Practices help to reverse the lifetime impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences such as poverty, child abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, and housing instability. It is a solidly researched, data-backed system. We have seen great success with this program in our East County schools, but maintaining and expanding it depends on our ability to continue to provide appropriate professional development for our teachers, and our upcoming budget is likely to remove that flexibility. I can tell you bluntly that the Senior Director overseeing our Madison High School Cluster is simply frantic that the coming budget will cut this program, waste a year’s worth of investment, and leave our most vulnerable students once again without the support they need to succeed and reverse the cycles of poverty, violence, and failure.
Similarly, Career and Technical Education is a vital part of most students’ success in middle and high schools. Its importance is well documented, and its popularity with students, parents, industry, the trades, and the voters is well known. Over the last three years, Portland Public Schools has made a massive investment of time, effort, and money in our Career and Technical Education programs, going from nine programs three years ago to today nearly fifty. Ironically, given the restrictions the ODE is liable to put on Measure 98 funds, if the Oregon Legislature elects to fund Measure 98’s investments out of the General Fund rather than future revenue increases, Portland Public Schools will likely end up needing to cut where we have struggled to build, offering fewer career and technical opportunities rather than more. Speaking for many of the smaller school districts in Oregon, where they often simply do not have the resources they need to be able to complete grant applications to the ODE, they are likely to end up in even worse positions. We need an adequate General Fund, not more grant-funded programs.
Vice President Biden famously said, “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Similarly, for thirty years Oregon school districts have been laboring under the burden of unfunded mandates by the state and the federal government. Most of these are superb causes that must be done (I particularly mention Special Education), but if something is worth doing it’s also worth being funded. Like former Vice President Biden famously said, “Don’t tell me what you value; show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.” There are currently two mandates you should be considering: SBAC testing and the physical education requirement.
Senator Lew Frederick should have the deep gratitude of all Oregon’s school districts and children for pushing through the requirement that the state track the spending on the SBAC test. SBAC testing regularly consumes a solid four months’ worth of Portland Public School resources, including teaching to the tests, taking practice tests, complete loss of most
computer and library access, and an IT Department that spends a third of the year desperately trying to shore up inadequate infrastructure. The audit done by the former Secretary of State is a complete mockery of Senator Frederick’s bill. We have solid evidence that the annual costs in time, lost opportunity, and money for Oregon’s school districts actually come to over $600 million. Last week West Virginia jettisoned the SBAC test, and I strongly encourage Oregon to do the same.
Similarly, our children need adequate physical education, and what they receive now is not sufficient. An unfunded mandate for more physical education is currently scheduled to kick in next year, but Portland Public Schools does not have the resources of either staff or of facilities to meet it. We have calculated that to fully meet the mandate, it would take an additional 123 dedicated staff members, equating to an additional $12.5 million hit to our budget. We need the Oregon Legislature to either fund for adequate physical education, or to defer the mandate.
None of the impacts from the proposed budget will happen in a vacuum; if no man is an island, certainly no school district is. Student success in high school often depends on having a clear vision of the next steps to advance in life and what needs to be done today to build on and achieve tomorrow, and yet today our high school students are waking up to the reality of 11% increases in state university tuition next year, with similar such increases likely if not certain in the coming years. We are rapidly pricing higher education out of our children’s future, and that puts even holding our ground in K12 education at great risk.
Also, for all of our students, they and their families depend on a wider service network. Likely cuts to the Oregon Health Authority, to the Department of Human Services, and to Multnomah County services are going to fall most heavily on our most vulnerable students. As just one example, the Oregon Legislature has expressed great interest in improving school absentee rates, but the Legislature has been ignoring the impact that healthcare has on student attendance. Multnomah County has some of the worst pediatric dental care statistics in the country; the teeth of more than 13,000 children in this county are literally rotting out of their heads, and the result is that the leading cause of absenteeism in our schools is tooth pain. This is not a first world problem, but it is emblematic of a child welfare system that will increasingly be unable to guarantee our children’s welfare.
“Willing your way to victory” is not a successful strategy for our children or schools in 2017.
These burdens are too great to expect our community-based partners to pick up the slack. In education “resiliency” is becoming a code word for the advantages of our most privileged students; it is infinitely easier for a child to be resilient to adversity if they come into the classroom assuming access to regular and healthy meals, safe and stable housing, adequate healthcare, reliable family income, dependable transportation and, in short, the stability and material success of the adults in their lives. Unfortunately, many if not most of our children can no longer depend on those assumptions. Many of our families depend not just on state and local agencies, but on community partners like IRCO, the Latino Network, APANO, and a list far too long to name in order to shore up those fundamental needs, but we cannot expect children to thrive in the face of a complete abdication of state responsibility. They – and we – are stretched far too thin already. “Willing your way to victory” is not a successful strategy for our children or schools in 2017.
Since Oregon’s last significant investment in public infrastructure in the 1950s, the State of Oregon (and Portland Public Schools) have collectively failed to invest in the future. In effect, we have been living off the foresight, the generosity, the largess of our parents and grandparents. It is time to admit that we have burned through our inheritance, and that the trust fund has run dry. Our buildings are literally rotting out underneath our feet, poisoning the water our students drink and the air they breathe. If Oregon is to have a prosperous future – in this appalling national political climate, if Oregon is to have the informed, empowered, caring and capable citizens it needs to ensure a humane and democratic future – it must invest in all of its children. We cannot do that with the revenue our current tax structure has available. I have worked at some of the highest levels of corporate finance in this state for 20 years. We have the lowest effective tax rate in the nation, and I tell you bluntly that we have got to stop this mindless race to the bottom. We have to raise corporate income taxes, and we have to raise them now. The future of our children depends on it. Thank you.